This summer I am working on a multimedia archive to document the migration experiences of South Asians residing in the Middle East, or the “Gulf,” as the region is popularly called. Despite historic trade relations between South Asia and the Gulf, much of this migration happened after the 1960s with the discovery of oil and the rising demand for labor in the construction sector of the economy. Through interviews, I aim to narrate the stories of these people and archive their varied experiences to help provide a holistic understanding of migration, both as a multidimensional process as well as an everyday reality for millions.
Having outlined this proposal, I have been constantly modifying the scope of my project to fit into the summer schedule. Because my subjects are located in a different part of the globe where internet calls are banned, it has been difficult to reach and schedule telephone interviews with them. I therefore decided to cast a wider net by moving beyond migrants from the southern Indian state of Kerala (as proposed originally) to that from the whole of South Asia.
The project also helped me test an instrument used for recording telephone interviews—an Olympus TP8 recorder. The sound quality is better than in some of the in-person interviews that I conducted earlier this year for my dissertation. More important, combined with calling cards and apps such as IMO, this method has come out as a viable alternative, especially for a population that is hard to reach due to various reasons, ranging from censorship to digital divide.
Lastly, in line with some of the readings and discussions that I had in the weekly studio class at the University of Iowa Libraries, I am using this process of creating the digital archive to reflect on how that has a bearing on my own research. This question is crucial because, for better or worse, it does serve as an impetus for most early career academics—and especially for an “international” graduate student from the Global South where digital is associated with privilege and social capital—to chart the growing, yet dubious, “field” of digital humanities. I am still far from having an answer to the question I raised. But my attempts to find one has almost become my preoccupation as I work on building this multimedia archive of stories of South Asians in the Gulf.